31 December 2008

Tethys wishes

Happy 2009 !

(Click on the image to enlarge)

27 December 2008

Dolphins, Photography and Dreams

A recollection

Back in my twenties, when I was moving my first steps as a cetology geek, I was assigned the task of recording cetacean sightings at sea by Giuseppe Notarbartolo di Sciara, who was my thesis co-advisor. ‘Find a boat and report what you see’, he said. Little was known back then - it was 1986 - about the distribution and ecology of whales and dolphins in the Mediterranean Sea. So I managed to embark on board a mid-size oceanographic ship and set out to defy my own seasickness, looking for dorsal fins and flukes from the upper deck of R/V ‘Bannock’, together with my colleague Benedetta Cavalloni.

Our very first cruise brought us to the Sicily Channel, where on the second day at sea I made one of my best sightings ever. A mixed group of nine common dolphins and one bottlenose dolphin came to ride the ship’s bow for a relatively long time. We had seen a school of striped dolphins on the previous day, but that event has faded in my memory. The early mixed Delphinus / Tursiops group, however, was not going to be forgotten.

The large bottlenose dolphin behaved as the leader and immediately positioned himself right in front of the bow, enjoying the pressure wave generated by the fast-moving ship and not allowing any of the smaller common dolphin group members to gain his apparently privileged position.

For some reason I had loaded a roll of black & white film but I soon realized that this wasn’t a good way of capturing such a colourful moment. I quickly got rid of those photos and inserted a roll of colour slides into my Pentax LX all-manual reflex camera.

Then the magic started. The morning light was beautiful and sharp, the dolphins lively and playful. Common dolphins were swimming fast on both sides of the ship, leaping at unison in golden water spry, gliding in the deep-blue water and showing their ochre-coloured flanks and amazing grace. I was absorbed by the difficult task of aiming, focusing and setting appropriate shutter speeds, but fully aware that I was shooting extraordinary photos. My first good photos of any cetacean species in the wild, something I had been dreaming about for years. I was there, eventually, and the beauty of the moment transcended my expectations.

At frame number 36 I was ready to change roll, but my camera kept going. At 38 I started worrying a little, but I had been hand-rolling my film and it wasn’t unusual to get a few additional photos. After frame number 40 I grew really nervous. What the hell was going on there? All the beauty disappeared and a thick fog filled my eyes. I kept shooting like a madman, telling myself that the roll was about to end, but it did not. In my hurry, I had failed to insert the tip of the film deep into the slit of the manual winder drive, and no image could be exposed. The camera had been shooting on idle. I opened the camera back and frantically tried to re-insert the roll, but the sighting was over. All the dolphins had left and even the morning light now looked kind of grey.

Some months later, Benedetta and I were invited to present our work to a public of specialists at the Milan Natural History Museum. These included Giuseppe Notarbartolo di Sciara, the eminent cetacean expert Luigi Cagnolaro and two scientists who had been pioneering field research on cetaceans in the Ligurian Sea: Michela Podestà and Luca Magnaghi. I was proud to be given an opportunity to report on our exploratory cruises and show the photos and data we had been collecting in the central and eastern Mediterranean. Unfortunately, that was my first public presentation and I felt overly nervous and uneasy. I desperately wanted to show that Benedetta and I had done a good job, but I was much too anxious for making a good impression to anyone. At the end of the slide show, after my disappointing talk, someone from the floor asked if we really had sighted common dolphins, particularly in a mixed group. A sighting of this species turned out to be an infrequent record, even back in the mid 80s. Could I project any slide to confirm our identification?

That was a moment of panic. As I was too ingenuous to find a clever excuse, I ended up confessing my technical mistake with stammering words, something that made me feel ridiculous and unfit. I cannot tell whether mouths really curved into ironic smiles and heads started shaking, or it was just my imagination. I felt horrible anyway. I had been unable to document an important sighting. I couldn’t even manage to use my own camera. Did I stand any chance to ever become a cetacean scientist?

Afterwards, Giuseppe asked me to show him the black & white photos and although these were no Bob Talbot’s, the identification of dolphins in the mixed group was unquestionable. At least our credibility was ok, but that whole experience was going to leave a lasting shade... in my dreams.

Since then, I have been regularly dreaming of extraordinary sightings: orcas swimming up a river, hundreds of dusky dolphins socializing in a beautiful sandy lagoon, sperm whales performing spectacular behaviours meters away from my boat. I was there with my camera, all excited for this opportunity to document something special, but unable to take a single photo. Have you ever experienced difficulty to walk or run in a dream, your legs suddenly turned into lead? I had a similar feeling about taking photos of the animals, and it felt painful.

Eventually, after many years, this kind of dreams stopped bothering me. Perhaps I managed to overcome my frustration, or alternative frustrations and nightmares came to replace that particular one. Today I can laugh at my early experience and tell myself that I should have set aside the camera to simply enjoy the wonderful sighting.

Giovanni Bearzi © 2008

26 December 2008

Caccia alle balene: perché occorre fermare questo massacro

La caccia commerciale alle balene viene ancora praticata da pochi paesi - Giappone, Norvegia, Islanda – un fatto che disturba fortemente la sensibilità di gran parte dell’opinione pubblica mondiale, non solo in Europa e in Nord America ma anche in Sud America, Sud Africa, India, Australia e Nuova Zelanda. Si potrà obiettare che in tutto il mondo ogni anno miliardi di animali vengono macellati per fornire alimento agli esseri umani: perché le balene dovrebbero essere diverse? In realtà è giusto opporsi alla caccia commerciale alle balene, per tre motivi principali.

1. La caccia alla balena mette a rischio le popolazioni che ne sono il bersaglio. Malgrado in questo momento la specie maggiormente cacciata sia la balenottera minore, con popolazioni ancora relativamente abbondanti, tutti i cetacei sono già fortemente minacciati dal deterioramento delle condizioni degli oceani, in primo luogo i cambiamenti climatici che minacciano il crollo della loro produttività.

2. Tuttavia, ammettiamo per un momento che essa non costituisca un rischio per la biodiversità marina (cosa che non è): la caccia alla balena è crudele. Le operazioni avvengono in mare, in condizioni non controllabili né controllate, che non garantiscono gli standard prescritti nella macellazione degli animali di allevamento nei nostri mattatoi, in cui è possibile (e obbligatorio) uccidere senza causare sofferenza. L’agonia di una balena colpita dall’arpione esplosivo può durare anche ore.

3. Tuttavia, ipotizziamo per un istante che le operazioni possano un giorno essere condotte in maniera accettabile sotto il profilo del welfare: la caccia alla balena è inutile. Lungi dall’alleviare la fame di popolazioni indigenti, il commercio di carne di balena serve solo ad arricchire il portafoglio di un ristretto gruppo di persone fornendo una “delicatezza” ai pochi che se la possono permettere, in ristoranti specializzati in carne di balena in Giappone. Al contrario, la caccia alla balena è in conflitto con l’attività assai più benevola di “sfruttamento” delle balene, il whale watching, oggi in crescente popolarità anche il Giappone, Norvegia e Islanda. È stato detto più volte che una balena vale molto più da viva che da morta; il problema è che il valore della balena viva non contribuisce al portafoglio di quelli che la vogliono morta, e che sono quelli che hanno accesso alla stanza dei bottoni.

Dunque la caccia alle balene è rischiosa, crudele e inutile. Quali altre giustificazioni occorrono per farla smettere?

A regolare la caccia alle balene è una Convenzione (Washington, 1948) ed esiste una Commissione (IWC, International Whaling Commission) che si riunisce ogni anno e ne gestisce le attività. Della IWC fanno parte 78 paesi, tra cui l’Italia. Nella IWC ci sarebbe una maggioranza schiacciante contro la baleneria se non fosse che il Giappone continua ad acquistare voti tra piccoli paesi in via di sviluppo, sia mediante promessa di aiuti economici sia mediante “incentivi economici” mirati. Poiché il voto di un’isola-stato come Antigua e Barbuda conta quanto quello degli Stati Uniti, i numeri delle due fazioni in seno alla IWC sono più o meno pari, fino a oggi con una leggera maggioranza anti-baleneria.

A tutt’oggi, dal 1986, ci troviamo in regime di moratoria alla caccia commerciale alle balene. Tuttavia Norvegia e Islanda hanno fatto obiezione all’adozione della moratoria per cui non vi sono tenute. Il Giappone non ha potuto fare obiezione sotto pressione degli USA, ma utilizza l’Art. 8 della Convenzione per cacciare. Tale articolo consente ai paesi membri di auto-attribuirsi quote di caccia per motivi scientifici, senza limiti né di numero né di specie. Il Comitato Scientifico della IWC ha ripetutamente stigmatizzato il Giappone per l’inconsistenza scientifica dell’iniziativa, ma il Giappone non è tenuto a seguire i consigli del Comitato Scientifico. Peggio ancora, il Giappone caccia nel Santuario dell’oceano australe perché al momento dell’adozione di tale Santuario da parte della IWC vi ha fatto obiezione, per cui non lo riconosce.

Su queste basi, pur in regine di moratoria, nell’ultima stagione (2006-2007) sono state uccise in tutto il mondo quasi 1900 balene. La caccia alla balena – oggi unicamente condotta per la produzione di carne per consumo umano – è in passivo. Il massimo consumo avviene in Giappone ma nemmeno il pubblico giapponese sembra interessato, e non ama la carne di balena, decisamente inferiore a quella bovina. Per cui vi è una sovrabbondanza di carne che è stata anche utilizzata per fare cibo per cani e gatti.

La caccia alla balena in Giappone è promossa da una lobby industriale che ha il potere di ottenere l’appoggio del governo. L’obiettivo di questo gruppo di interesse è di tener duro fino a quando una liberalizzazione della caccia e la fine della moratoria consentirà di mettere sul mercato grandi quantità di carne a prezzo inferiore a quello attuale (molto alto), con probabili enormi margini di profitto. La strategia utilizzata dal gruppo comprende a) disinformazione: il pubblico giapponese non sa quali sono i motivi per cui il mondo critica il Giappone, perché non ha accesso a informazione che non sia controllata dalla lobby; b) sentimenti nazionalistici avversi ad atteggiamenti che, in mancanza della corretta informazione, vengono percepiti come una forma di imperialismo culturale; c) diffusione di “verità” fabbricate: “le balene sono una minaccia alla sicurezza alimentare globale perché consumano troppo pesce, sottraendolo all’umanità”. Tale asserzione, che tocca un nervo scoperto in molti paesi in via di sviluppo dove l’alimento non è una certezza, è totalmente priva di fondamento scientifico.

Giuseppe Notarbartolo di Sciara

Foto: Australian Custom Service

Articolo tratto da Rivista della Natura n. 3/2008

23 December 2008

A caccia di balenieri

Ho trascorso centinaia di ore a scrutare il mare alla ricerca di un soffio all'orizzonte, di una pinna falcata o di un lucido dorso grigio. E ogni volta che, finalmente, si palesava la familiare sagoma di una balenottera o di un branco di delfini, portava con sé un'emozione profonda, mista al rispetto per animali meravigliosi. Dall'altra parte del globo, in Antartide, ci sono persone che in questo preciso istante fanno lo stesso, pattugliano il mare nella speranza che una balena emerga alla superficie, ma con scopi ben diversi: con l'intenzione di uccidere. Questo pensiero mi risulta intollerabile.

Per questo, quando mi hanno proposto di tradurre "The Whale Warriors", un libro del giornalista americano Peter Heller, ho accettato subito (anche se avevo promesso a me stessa che non avrei più fatto traduzioni impegnative). Mi occupo di ricerca scientifica sulle balenottere del Mediterraneo da oltre 20 anni, e queste ricerche hanno un unico scopo: conoscere meglio i cetacei per poterli tutelare. Perché di una cosa si rendono conto coloro che si intendono di mammiferi marini: questi esseri enormi sono terribilmente fragili. Oggi basta un traghetto superveloce a uccidere un cetaceo di oltre 20 metri; una rete da pesca per far affogare un capodoglio, e con ogni probabilità basta una minima variazione nell'equilibrio ambientale perché la piccola, preziosa popolazione mediterranea di balenottera comune muoia di fame. Per questo il lavoro del cetologo ha due aspetti: raccogliere dati scientifici da una parte, e raccontare quello che si viene a sapere al pubblico, perché faccia pressione su politici e amministratori per delle azioni di salvaguardia.

Per quanto riguarda i giornali, delle balene si parla abbastanza spesso; in aggiunta a tutte le minacce di cui sopra, la ripresa della caccia, puntualmente ogni inverno, fa spesso notizia - sul momento - per poi finire di nuovo accantonata fino all'anno seguente. Ma mentre quotidiani e periodici si limitano perlopiù a riportare le agenzie di stampa, Peter Heller fa una cosa ormai molto rara: va a vedere di persona. E come i cronisti di guerra, rischia la vita per descrivere un campo di battaglia, quello della baleneria, spingendosi in un posto che dire remoto è poco; tanto è vero che a un certo punto si rende conto che nella vastità dell'oceano antartico, la barca che sta cercando di proteggere le balene, è praticamente sola - in tutti i sensi.

E non è l'unica situazione paradossale. Oggi la stragrande maggioranza dei Paesi del mondo è contrario alla caccia baleniera o non ha alcun interesse, eppure l'organismo internazionale che ogni anno decide in materia non è in grado di bloccare il massacro. Praticamente un solo Paese guadagna con la carne di cetaceo, ed è il Giappone (e in minor misura la Norvegia e l'Islanda); ma grazie a facili scappatoie può di fatto sfruttare senza scrupoli e in maniera totalmente miope quello che è patrimonio dell'intera umanità. Senza contare che, dal punto di vista prettamente economico, una balena oggi vale più da viva che da morta, se si considera il giro di interessi del whale-watching, la visitazione "turistica" dei cetacei. Quindi oggi c'è, da una parte, chi si scervella su come avvicinare gli animali senza arrecare disturbo, né distoglierli dalle loro attività, e dall'altra chi li massacra senza il minimo scrupolo, con una tecnica tra le più brutali al mondo.

Uccidere una balena di svariate decine di tonnellate è infatti un'impresa tra le più difficili e cruente. Ma Heller resiste alla tentazione di illustrare scene di violenza ad effetto - addirittura fin dall'inizio teme di dover assistere a sanguinosi massacri; la drammaticità della situazione ci viene invece comunicata in maniera molto più sottile, intessuta nella descrizione del variopinto equipaggio della Farley Mowat, così come traspare dalle motivazioni dei pittoreschi personaggi, a metà tra follia e idealismo, e dal coraggio e dall'incoscienza dell'improbabile (ma reale) comandante Paul Watson.

Il libro di Heller si legge come un racconto di avventura, ambientato in posti dove la maggior parte di noi non andrà mai. Ma pur conservando tutto il sapore dei resoconti di viaggio di un tempo, si tratta di una battaglia per niente "lontana" né legata al passato, ma che si ripete ogni anno, e si può seguire "in diretta". Mentre traducevo le vicende dell'inverno 2005-2006, sui siti Internet di Sea Shepherd e Greenpeace, passava in tempo reale la "versione" dell'anno seguente; e ora, proprio in questi giorni, chiunque può fare altrettanto seguendo la nave di Sea Shepherd che ha da poco intercettato i giapponesi (http://www.seashepherd.org/operation-musashi/): un'avventura che l'anno scorso sfiorò la tragedia quando i balenieri aprirono il fuoco contro Paul Watson (provvidenzialmente protetto da un giubbotto antiproiettile).

Heller conclude il suo libro nel momento dell'annuncio da parte dei giapponesi, che l'anno seguente anche cinquanta megattere, una specie considerata in pericolo e protetta nel resto del mondo, sarebbero entrate nel mirino. Questo avveniva un anno fa. Ma come sappiamo, poi, per la prima volta, i nipponici fecero marcia indietro di fronte all'indignazione internazionale. Il giorno in cui fu data la notizia sui giornali, qualcuno, sapendo che mi occupo di cetacei, si rallegrò con me. La gente ne aveva forse ricavato l'impressione che la caccia fosse sul punto di finire. Ma purtroppo non è così. Il perché, Heller ce lo spiega sia "toccando con mano" la baleneria moderna, sia sviscerando i perversi meccanismi che ne stanno alla base. E lo fa non da ambientalista militante, ma con l'obiettività e l'equidistanza del giornalista anglosassone. Salvo, alla fine, lasciarsi forse conquistare dalla causa, tanto è vero che l'edizione italiana è corredata di una postfazione dell'autore in cui descrive quello che fece dopo essere tornato dall'Antartide: andò a manifestare contro il massacro dei delfini a Taiji, in Giappone, introducendosi di nascosto, nella baia "della morte".

Se un giorno, finalmente, le mostruose navi-fabbrica giapponesi non salperanno più, sarà forse un po' anche merito di questo libro. Nel frattempo, purtroppo, continua ogni anno la routine dei balenieri, che paradossalmente assomiglia a quella dei ricercatori e dei whale-watcher. Avvistato qualcosa all'orizzonte, entrambi preparano l'attrezzatura: macchine fotografiche da una parte, arpioni esplosivi dall'altra.

Dopo aver tradotto i "Guerrieri delle balene", non riesco a non pensarci, ogni volta che guardo in mare alla ricerca di un soffio all'orizzonte.

Maddalena Jahoda

Peter Heller. I guerrieri delle balene: La battaglia per salvare i più grandi mammiferi della Terra. Casa Editrice Corbaccio, Milano. 352 pp. (Traduzione di Maddalena Jahoda)

22 December 2008

Seasonal forcing and habitat use by Adriatic bottlenose dolphins

A new paper on the influence of seasonal forcing on habitat use by bottlenose dolphins in the northern Adriatic Sea has recently been published.

The research was conducted by Tethys personnel in collaboration with CNR/ISMAR, in the context of INTEREG Project OBAS (Biological Oceanography of the northern Adriatic Sea).

The study, based on data collected between 2003 and 2006, investigates some of the factors that influence habitat use by the animals in a largely homogeneous environment, by combining
dolphin data with hydrological and physiographical variables sampled from oceanographic ships.

Habitat modelling predicted between 81% and 93% of the cells where animals were present. Seven environmental covariates were important predictors: oxygen saturation, water temperature, density anomaly, gradient of density anomaly, turbidity, distance from the nearest coast and bottom depth.

This study suggests that dolphin distribution changes depending on seasonal forcing. As the study area is relatively uniform in terms of bottom topography, habitat use by the animals seems to depend on complex interactions among hydrological variables, caused primarily by seasonal change and likely to determine shifts in prey distribution.

Bearzi G., Azzellino A., Politi E., Costa M., Bastianini M. 2008. Influence of seasonal forcing on habitat use by bottlenose dolphins Tursiops truncatus in the northern Adriatic Sea. Ocean Science Journal 43(4).

21 December 2008

Che pesci pigliare?

I nostri mari stanno diventando sempre più poveri a causa di una pessima gestione della pesca. Si pesca troppo, male e a un ritmo frenetico. Le risorse ittiche si stanno esaurendo ed è necessario porre dei limiti al consumo. Ma quali limiti?

L'idea di sensibilizzare i consumatori in altri paesi esiste già da un pezzo, ma in Italia è arrivata da poco. Si chiama ‘Sai che pesci pigliare?’ ed è una guida tascabile ideata dal WWF.

La guida aiuta i consumatori italiani a mettere in tavola prodotti ittici più sostenibili. Sono indicate 48 specie tra pesci, molluschi e crostacei, che possono essere scelte con tranquillità oppure devono essere rigorosamente evitate.

Un semaforo rosso indica le specie da non comprare in quanto già abbondantemente sovrasfruttate e in drastica diminuzione (come il tonno e il pesce spada), un semaforo verde segnala le specie il cui prelievo risulta essere ancora sostenibile e compatibile con la salvaguardia degli stock ittici.


Per ulteriori informazioni:
Guida WWF ‘Sai che pesci pigliare?’
When swordfish conservation biologists eat swordfish

18 December 2008

Delfino comune: non c'è più tempo da perdere

Nell’anno a lei dedicato, la specie, ad alto rischio d’estinzione, potrebbe ancora essere salvata

L’ironia vuole che la più minacciata delle nove specie di cetacei che si trovano regolarmente in Mediterraneo – minacciata al punto che potrebbe scomparire dalla regione nei prossimi decenni - si chiami delfino comune (Delphinus delphis). Nome forse dovuto al fatto che in tempi passati questa specie sembra sia stata, in effetti, la più comune tra i cetacei che si trovano in questo mare.

Quella del delfino comune del Mediterraneo è una tragedia largamente annunciata. L’inizio del suo declino risale ad almeno 40 anni fa. Il primo allarme venne dato dall’IUCN negli Anni ’80, mentre nel 2000 la stessa organizzazione avvertiva che urgenti misure erano necessarie se si voleva scongiurare la scomparsa della specie dalla regione. Nel 2003, infatti, la popolazione mediterranea veniva iscritta nella Lista Rossa come “in pericolo” (Endangered).

Oggi il delfino comune è quasi completamente scomparso da gran parte del Mediterraneo. Ne sopravvivono sacche isolate nell’Egeo, nel bacino di Levante, qua e là lungo la costa africana, nello Stretto di Sicilia e nel Tirreno, mentre la sua cacciata dal Mar Ligure e dallo Ionio, in particolare dalla sua roccaforte lungo le coste greche, è ormai quasi completata. Nel mare di Alborán, che rimane l’ultimo rilevante serbatoio della specie nella regione, la pesca illegale del pesce spada effettuata dal Marocco con reti pelagiche derivanti continua a essere una sorgente altissima di mortalità per il delfino comune.

Ancora non sono chiari i motivi del suo declino in Mediterraneo; o meglio, non è chiaro perché il suo declino stia avvenendo con un ritmo più incalzante di quello di altre specie di delfini nella stessa regione. Le cause possibili sono numerose.

In primo luogo le uccisioni dirette da parte dei pescatori, incentivati nel secolo scorso (in alcuni paesi fino agli anni ’70) da taglie pecuniarie elargite dai governi di Francia, Italia, ex – Iugoslavia e Grecia con l’intento di ridurre le popolazioni di animali a quei tempi considerati nocivi per la pesca. In secondo luogo le catture accidentali negli attrezzi da pesca. Non ultimo il degrado dell’habitat mediterraneo, in ginocchio dopo decenni di abusi e pratiche insostenibili. E infine – come dimostrato nella Grecia ionica – il depauperamento delle prede causato dalla pesca eccessiva.

Verrebbe da pensare che la prevedibile scomparsa dal Mediterraneo di una specie emblematica, vistosa e accattivante come il delfino comune, avrebbe stimolato all’azione quelle istituzioni per le quali la tutela dell’ambiente e delle specie selvatiche è l’unico motivo di esistere. Purtroppo non è così.

Nel 2004, alla seconda riunione delle parti contraenti di ACCOBAMS – l’accordo tra paesi del Mediterraneo e Mar Nero per la tutela dei cetacei – l’adozione di un articolato piano di conservazione del delfino comune, preparato dal comitato scientifico dell’accordo, venne bloccata dal rappresentante della Commissione Europea perché gli Stati membri dell’Unione non possono adottare motu proprio misure che abbiano a che fare con la pesca, che è competenza esclusiva della Commissione stessa. Purtroppo il delfino comune, inspiegabilmente, è ignorato dalla Direttiva europea “Habitats” che invece elenca nel suo Annesso II il tursiope e la focena - le altre due specie di cetacei che frequentano le acque costiere europee - con significative ripercussioni sulle risorse dedicate alla sua tutela.

L’aspetto forse più tragico della vicenda del delfino comune è che, ad agire subito, forse saremmo ancora in tempo per scongiurarne la scomparsa; tuttavia, nessuna spedizione di soccorso è ancora apparsa all’orizzonte. In barba a tutte le dichiarazioni, raccomandazioni, pianificazioni strategiche e studi commissionati – e in barba al target fissato dalle Nazioni Unite, di arrestare la perdita di biodiversità, e alla designazione del 2008 come l’Anno del delfino - ancora non è stata intrapresa una singola azione di tutela del delfino comune nel Mediterraneo.

Giuseppe Notarbartolo di Sciara

Articolo tratto da Rivista della Natura n. 2/2008

Per maggiori informazioni:

Appello per la conservazione del delfino comune

Bearzi G., Reeves R.R., Notarbartolo di Sciara G., Politi E., Canadas A., Frantzis A., Mussi B. 2003. Ecology, status and conservation of short-beaked common dolphins (Delphinus delphis) in the Mediterranean Sea. Mammal Review 33(3):224-252.

Bearzi G., Agazzi S., Gonzalvo J., Costa M., Bonizzoni S., Politi E., Piroddi C., Reeves R.R. 2008. Overfishing and the disappearance of short-beaked common dolphins from western Greece. Endangered Species Research 5:1-12.

17 December 2008

Are bottlenose dolphin daughters smarter or just more diligent than sons?

Back in 1997, researcher Rachel Smolker and colleagues studied bottlenose dolphins (Tursiops sp.) in Shark Bay, Western Australia, and they noticed that some females often carry sponges on the tips of their rostrum.

At that time they suggested that this behaviour was the first example of tool use by dolphins. Sponges might protect the cetacean that is searching for food on the seabed from the spines and stings of animals such as stonefish and stingrays.

Now, researcher Janet Mann found out that while mothers show both their male and female calves how to use sponges, female calves seem to be more interested in this behaviour than males. ‘The daughters seem really keen to do it, they try and try, whereas the sons don’t seem to think it’s a big deal and hang out at the surface waiting for their mothers to come back up’.

Researchers are still not sure why only part of the females' population is involved in this activity and why most of the ‘spongers’ are females. They are also trying to understand if this behaviour may have evolutionary and other benefits.

Silvia Bonizzoni

Photo: Amanda C. Coakes

For more information:
Mann J., Sargeant B.L., Watson-Capps J.J., Gibson Q.A., Heithaus M.R., Connor R.C., Patterson E. 2008. Why Do Dolphins Carry Sponges? PLoS ONE 3(12): e3868. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0003868

Smolker R.A., Richards A., Connor R., Mann J., Berggren P. 1997. Sponge-carrying by Indian Ocean bottlenose dolphins: possible tool-use by a delphinid. Ethology 103: 454–465.


16 December 2008

Urgent action is needed to save Mediterranean common dolphins

A week after representatives of 110 governments met in Rome at the 9th Conference of the Parties of the Convention on Migratory Species (CMS) to discuss better protection for migratory species around the globe, conservationists and scientists call for urgent action to prevent the Mediterranean common dolphin from regional extinction. The issue was addressed during the International Summit on the Mediterranean Environment held in Crete, Greece, last week and organised by Essence Consulting with the support of the Hellenic National Commission for UNESCO and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, in the context of the “Year of the Dolphin”.

Greek authorities, conservationists, scientists and representatives of the artisanal fisheries sector met to discuss immediate measures to avoid the complete eradication of common dolphins and other endangered marine mammals. In 2003, Mediterranean common dolphins have been listed as Endangered in the IUCN Red List of Threatened Animals. This species is also listed in the CMS Appendixes I and II and protected by ACCOBAMS, the Agreement on the Conservation of Cetaceans of the Black Sea, Mediterranean Sea and Contiguous Atlantic Area. However, no concrete action has been taken so far to protect these animals. As a result, the conservation status of common dolphins is now more alarming than ever.

According to representatives from OceanCare and WDCS, the Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society, who participated in the Summit held in Crete, immediate management action can prevent a further decline of Mediterranean common dolphins, but Governments must act before it is too late for a species that - despite its name - is becoming less and less common.

The situation is particularly worrying in Greece, particularly in the waters east of Lefkada and around the island of Kalamos, where common dolphins decreased from 150 to only 15 animals over the past ten years. For this reason, a Call for Action to save the last common dolphins around Kalamos was launched by 13 regional and local NGOs and was endorsed by the Summit in Crete. This species is also declining in the Gulf of Vera, Spain. In the northern Adriatic Sea, common dolphins were abundant until the 1960s, but they have now completely disappeared.

The main factor thought to be causing the decline of common dolphins is reduced availability of their prey caused by excessive fishing pressure. Mortality in fishing gear, particularly driftnets, is another major source of concern. Conservationists and scientists demand concrete management action by the Governments, especially to reduce fishing pressure and enforce existing legislation.

“Scientists and conservationists spend much of their life frantically writing documents and recommendations, but little or nothing happens in the real world. Is paper, and then more paper, all that governments really want from us? When will the time for action come?” declared Giovanni Bearzi, President of the Tethys Research Institute and one of the leading experts of common dolphins.

(Press release by WDCS and OceanCare)

10 December 2008

Book of the Month: December 2008

Earth in Mind

On Education, Environment, and the Human Prospect

by David W. Orr

2004 (First edition: 1994)

Island Press, Washington

08 December 2008

Tethys now on Facebook

Tethys has just launched its Facebook page.

Facebook members are welcome to become fans!

The Facebook page intends to make the information provided in the Tethys web site more widely accessible, also offering an interactive element.

The page features a Discussion section where fans will be able to express their views on selected topics. Comments in Italian are as welcome as those in English. There are excellent online translation tools available for those who cannot understand either language (this Blog allows for an automatic Google translation).

The Facebook page is now linked to this Blog, so you will see the latest 20 posts in both places.

You are welcome to provide feedback and to let your Facebook friends know about this new space. To do this, you may want to take advantage of the 'Share Link' tool in the Wall section of your Facebook profile (Bacheca > Condividi Link).


06 December 2008

Italia 'prima' nel mondo

Ieri, in occasione della Conferenza Mondiale sul Clima a Poznan (Polonia), il nostro paese è riuscito ad aggiudicarsi il "prestigioso" premio Il Fossile del Giorno.

Il premio è destinato agli Stati incapaci di affrancarsi dall'uso massiccio dei combustibili fossili e che, durante il processo di negoziazione sul clima, si sono distinti per le loro azioni di disturbo o addirittura di sabotaggio dei tentativi per ridurre l'inquinamento.

La giuria, composta da diversi rappresentanti del Climate Action Network (una rete internazionale di oltre 400 NGO che partecipano ai lavori della conferenza), ha premiato l’Italia per la sua delegazione “silenziosa e a volte inesistente” e per i suoi continui sforzi nel “distruggere il buon esito del processo negoziale di Poznan”.

Secondi a pari merito Giappone, Australia e Canada. Terzo posto alla Russia.

E' bello essere italiani e primeggiare in qualcosa. O no?

Silvia Bonizzoni


05 December 2008

Stop hunting Faroese pilot whales (they aren't safe for human consumption!)

Every year, photos of the pilot whales slaughter in the Faroe Islands are shown in various web sites to condemn the barbarity of this activity.

Every year Danish and Faroese officers reply by claiming that whaling is part of their culture and a fully sustainable tradition.

While NGOs and private citizens have long been trying to stop this practice, advocating respect for highly-evolved marine mammals, their efforts so far have been unsuccessful. However, now there may be a new reason to stop slaughtering pilot whales.

Faroese chief medical officers have recommended that pilot whales no longer be considered safe for human consumption, simply because their meat and blubber contain too much mercury, PCBs and DDT.

Silvia Bonizzoni and Giovanni Bearzi




Danish officers' reply to a complaint:

Dear Sir
The Danish Foreign Ministry has received your letter where you express your feelings caused by some pictures circulating on the internet depicting selected scenes from the catching of pilot whales in the Faroe Islands. We take note of the fact that a number of people find the above mentioned pictures disturbing. However, before passing any judgment upon whaling in general or the Faroese pilot whale drive fishery in particular one will need to supplement a possibly negative aesthetic first hand impression with considerations of a number of issues such as:
· General principles regarding use of wildlife;
· Biodiversity: the effects of the catch upon the relevant whale stock;
· Principles regarding the sustainable use of ocean resources, including interdependence between marine mammals and fish stocks;
· Animal welfare issues, including comparisons of a whale hunt with other hunts of large mammals in the wild, with the treatment of farmed animals throughout their life cycle, and of animals which are regarded as a nuisance; one might even consider certain kinds of non-food-related violent treatment of large mammals, found in some cultures.
· Ethics of food production in general. Does a meal of pilot whale meat represent more or less cumulated man-made animal pain than dishes normally eaten in one’s own country?
· Ecological questions, notably the ecological footprint of different modes of meat production, including the choice between local and imported food.
· Geographic and nutritional factors, availability of alternative food sources, notably in islands and remote coastal areas, not least in arctic or sub-arctic parts of the world.
· Cultural diversity, and tolerance/intolerance towards people with different food preferences and/or different attitudes towards different animals;
The Faroe Islands have autonomy within the Kingdom of Denmark. The islands are not included in Denmark’s membership of the European Union. Affairs regarding industry, agriculture, the environment, fishing and whaling, are subject to Faroese autonomy. If you want to address the Faroese authorities regarding pilot whaling, the e-mail address of the Foreign Department of the Faroese Government is mfa@mfa.fo; The e-mail address of the Faroese department of Fisheries and Maritime Affairs is fisk@fisk.fo;
If you, before forming your own finite opinion of the subject, or before addressing the relevant authorities, should be interested in acquiring some factual knowledge about whaling in the Faroe Islands, you may turn to the homepage on whaling of the Faroese authorities:

Kind regards,

04 December 2008

A new bottlenose dolphin species?

Two species were already included in the genus Tursiops: the common bottlenose dolphin T. truncatus and the Indo-Pacific bottlenose dolphin T. aduncus. Now a third species has been described in the waters off southern Australia.

This dolphin looks like the Indo-Pacific species, but genetically it is very different and according to the authors who published this finding it should be classified as a separate species.

Researchers from the Marine Mammal Research Group of Macquarie University, Sidney, say that this species is quite closely related to the Fraser's dolphin Lagenodelphis hosei, which lives in deep waters mostly in the Pacific and Indian Oceans.

The suggested common name of this ‘newborn’ species would be Southern Australian bottlenose dolphin, but a scientific name can only be given after a formal description.

It remains to be seen whether this species will be formally and unanimously recognized by the scientific community.

Silvia Bonizzoni

Möller L.M., Bilgmann K., Charlton-Robb K., Beheregaray L. 2008. Multi-gene evidence for a new bottlenose dolphin species in southern Australi. Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution 49(2):674-681.

Photo from Macquarie University

For more information:

02 December 2008

Sousa still struggling

The unique Indo-Pacific humpback dolphin (Sousa chinensis) found in the strait between Taiwan’s western coast and Hong Kong has long been suffering hardship.

The west coast of Taiwan spans a sea of ‘industrial parks’, which have been seen to dump their waste runoff directly into the adjacent coast. Unfortunately, the adjacent coast also houses Sousa sightings. With seafood occupying the majority of the Taiwanese food market, the coastline and the surrounding waters of Taiwan are also filled with a variety of nets including gill nets and large driftnets.

This harsh environment leaves little chance for the declining numbers of these dolphins who are believed to be less than 90 individuals and, thanks to a recent study from Dr. John Wang, are a distinct population from that of Hong Kong.

Local marine biologists, NGOs and international scientists are working hard to help these remarkable mammals to recover but the way seems to be long. Only a few months ago, this dolphin was listed by the IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature) as ‘Critically Endangered’, the most serious category of threat before extinction!

We hope that the endangered declaration will increase pressure on the Taiwanese government to protect the dolphins' habitat. But this is not enough, much more must be done quickly to help stabilize and eventually bring the Sousa population back to stronger numbers.

Shiva Javdan

Photo from csiwhalesalive.org

For more information:
IUCN Red List - Sousa chinensis
Taiwan Sousa blogspot

01 December 2008

Neanderthals and marine mammals at Gibraltar

A recent study in two coastal sites in Gibraltar provides evidence that Neanderthals were exploiting marine mammals and other coastal resources such as molluscs and fishes.

Regarding marine mammals, authors have found evidence that Neanderthals may be eating monk seals, common dolphins and bottlenose dolphins.

This finding suggests hunting practices targeting marine mammals.

Silvia Bonizzoni


The photo (from Stringer et al. 2008) shows human-induced damage on monk seal proximal hind limb phalanx.

For more information:
Stringer C.B., Finlayson J.C., Barton R.N.E., Fernandez-Jalvo Y., Caceres I., Sabin R.C., Rhodes E.J., Currant A.P., Rodriguez-Vidal J., Giles-Pacheco F., Riquelme-Cantal J.A. 2008. Neanderthal exploitation of marine mammals in Gibraltar. PNAS 105(38): 14319-14324.

http://www.csic.es/ (in Spanish)

30 November 2008

Tethys courses 2009

The Tethys Research Institute has been running field courses on Mediterranean whales and dolphins since 1990.

Many hundreds of participants from all nationalities have reported unforgettable experiences with these animals in their natural environment, while also substantially contributing to research and conservation efforts.

The new programmes for the incoming season of field courses have been recently updated, with detailed information on the two projects in the Pelagos Sanctuary (Italy) and in the Gulf of Corinth (Greece).

For more information:

Tethys courses 2009

29 November 2008

It’s not so simple

We sometimes think that, to save a cetacean species, the only thing we need to do is to completely and quickly remove the main threat. However, reality often presents a higher degree of complexity.

Filmmaker Chris Johnson of earthOCEAN recently interviewed Catalina Lopez Sagástegui of Noroeste Sustentable (NOS), a non-governmental organization that deals with conflict resolution in conservation. Catalina is a marine biologist specialized in the vaquita, the small cetacean threatened by gillnets in Mexico. She explains very well why this conservation issue is more complex than we may think.

“It’s very simple to say We need to get gillnets out of the water... True, this is the quickest way to save the vaquita, but behind that there’s so many different issues that you have to look at...”

In this 5 minutes interview, Catalina reports her experience working on vaquita conservation over the last couple of years, what her organization is trying to do and the pulse of local community.

Have a look !

Silvia Bonizzoni



22 November 2008

Lucky penguins

What is really remarkable here isn't the penguins avoiding orca attacks, but rather the fact that orcas did not attack the inflatable to feast on pinguins and humans...


P.S. forget abut the music...

20 November 2008

Amazing photos

Amazing underwater photos of common dolphins, sharks and birds feasting on sardines off the South African coast.

Absolutely wonderful!

Don't miss them, have a look!

18 November 2008

Pesca illegale sul sito di Report

Chi non ha potuto vedere il servizio di Sabrina Giannini / Report sulla pesca illegale in Italia può farlo online cliccando su questo link.

Ne vale la pena.

16 November 2008

From a cetacean point of view

Have you ever wondered how it feels being a cetacean?

Some footage taken by swimming whales can be seen on the web site of Dr. Robin Baird

Thanks to a crittercam system attached to the animal with a suction cup, which rotates to face into the direction the animal is swimming, Dr. Baird and his team are studying the diving behaviour of cetaceans in Hawaiian waters.

Have a look at this amazing footage! You will see false killer whales, short-finned pilot whales, and oceanic white-tip sharks.

Silvia Bonizzoni

For more information:

15 November 2008

A mini-helicopter for studying whales

Dr. Karina Acevedo-Whitehouse (Post-doctoral Research Fellow at the Zoological Society of London), found out a new way to study disease in whales.

Forget about samples taken from stranded, dead or captive animals and think about a 3.5 feet-long helicopter! This small remotely-controlled machine flies over the whale as it surfaces to breathe expelling air through its blow hole. At that time, gases and mucus blown out are collected in sterile Petri dishes attached to the mini-helicopter, and are then examined to see whether the animal is carrying any disease.

The new research method has been tested in the Gulf of California and off the western coasts of Baja California.

Silvia Bonizzoni

For more information:
Mini-helicopter used to test whale health

14 November 2008

Action Plans for cetacean conservation in Syria and Lebanon

Between the 29th of October and the 6th of November, Tethys researcher Joan Gonzalvo visited Syria and Lebanon in the context of the preparation of National Action Plans for the Conservation of Cetaceans. The initiative has been coordinated and funded by ACCOBAMS and the RAC/SPA.

At the beginning of March Joan had already spent one week in Syria to gather the necessary information for the preparation of an Action Plan, which was handed-in last June. The document was co-authored by Giovanni Bearzi, President of Tethys.

In his most recent visit to Syria, Joan presented this Action Plan to Syrian authorities and stakeholders, during an event organized by the Syrian Society for the Conservation of Wildlife and aimed to explore the best ways of implementing the actions included in the Plan.

Then Joan moved to Lebanon to attend a series of meetings with Lebanese authorities and fishermen representatives and to participate in a workshop at the Lebanese Ministry of Agriculture, organized by the National Centre of Marine Sciences, to gather the information needed for the preparation of the Action Plan for Cetaceans in Lebanon. The workshop was extremely successful.

The development of cetacean research and conservation actions in these two countries of the Middle East offers a unique opportunity to get insight on the situation of whales and dolphins in a region where almost no information on cetaceans is available.

A first version of the Action Plan for the conservation of cetaceans in Lebanon will be submitted at the end of January 2009.


Photo: Joan Gonzalvo interviewing artisanal fishermen in the port of Tyr (Lebanon)

13 November 2008

Pesca illegale

Da non perdere la prossima puntata di Report dedicata alla pesca illegale:

MARE NOSTRUM di Sabrina Giannini

In onda domenica 16 novembre 2008 alle 21.30.

Il nostro è un paese circondato dal mare che importa il 70 per cento del pesce che consuma. E' la conseguenza di una fallimentare gestione del mare che per due decenni ha consentito uno sfruttamento delle risorse oltre ogni limite. Che ha tollerato e tollera numerose forme di illegalità. Nulla di ciò che accade sarebbe consentito se venisse fatto sulla terra ferma: bracconaggio travestito da pesca sportiva, pesca indiscriminata praticata a ridosso della costa che non permette ai pesci di raggiungere l'età della riproduzione, norme e cavilli che consentono da anni l'uso di reti proibite. Il fatto è che in tutto il mondo il pesce è in esaurimento e intere economie stanno pian piano collassando. Ma tutto questo avviene lontano dalle nostre tavole, dove il pesce continua ad essere un cibo a buon mercato, e per questo ne consumiamo molto. Nessun cartellino del prezzo o nessun menù però riporta il “costo”, molto più elevato di quel che crediamo.


08 November 2008

Succede che il mare

Succede di avere la presunzione di conoscere e capire il mare soltanto per il numero di anni trascorsi sui libri, a studiare. Succede di buttarsi nel lavoro a capofitto, di perdersi dietro a teorie e modelli statistici, rischiando di perdere di vista la semplicità dei fatti. Succede poi che la soluzione a un dato problema venga semplicemente dalla capacità di ascoltare e osservare il mare e i suoi abitanti. Un appassionato navigatore o un pescatore, in virtù della loro diretta esperienza, possono renderci comprensibile ciò che non riuscivamo a vedere. Capita che la nostra scienza ci porti a conclusioni e scoperte interessanti, che tuttavia erano già note a coloro che traggono dal mare il loro sostentamento. Il miglior contributo che possiamo offrire a questo mare è allora frutto di una integrazione fra le conoscenze e le competenze di tutti: coloro che dipendono da questa risorsa, coloro che intendono preservarla e coloro che il mare lo conoscono soprattutto attraverso i libri o i laboratori. Succede che il mare parli alle persone in tanti modi diversi e non sempre lo fa nella nostra lingua.

Annalise Petroselli

05 November 2008

02 November 2008

Tethys contributes to new IUCN publications

On the IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature) website is now possible to download three important and interesting volumes about Marine Protected Areas and the effects of marine traffic in the Mediterranean Sea.

Two remarkable contributions come from Giuseppe Notarbartolo di Sciara and Simone Panigada, respectively Tethys’s honorary president and vice-president.

Notarbartolo wrote the foreword of the volume called “Status of Marine Protected Areas in the Mediterranean Sea”. Panigada, with other researchers, wrote "Biodiversity impacts of ship movement, noise, grounding and anchoring", the first chapter of “Maritime traffic effects on biodiversity in the Mediterranean Sea - Volume 1”.


01 November 2008

Rare footage of vaquita

Chris Johnson, an acclaimed cetacean filmmaker who worked with Tethys in the recent past, is currently busy in Mexico with the ‘Expedition Vaquita’.

There, he is working with scientists from Mexico, the U.S., the U.K. and Japan to film vaquitas Phocoena sinus, the most endangered and the smallest cetacean in the world.

After some days in the field, Chris was a little ‘upset’ as suggested by his Blog: “I kept thinking how I was probably the only one on the expedition who had not glimpsed a vaquita yet. I was so busy filming the unfolding action...

But... good things come to those who wait!” and, on October 23rd, he managed to film the rare vaquita!

This video is part of Whale Trackers, a series of documentary programmes that journey across the world’s oceans to explore the lives of whales, dolphins and porpoises.

Have a look to the first rare footage of vaquita!


For more information:
The vaquita porpoise
IUCN Red List: Phocoena sinus

31 October 2008

Tethys in Puglia

In occasione dei primi dieci anni dall’istituzione della Riserva Marina di Porto Cesareo (Lecce), il 30 e 31 ottobre, si è svolto il workshop intitolato “Pesca e gestione delle aree marine protette”.

All’evento, organizzato dall’Università del Salento, dal Consorzio di gestione dell’Area Marina Protetta di Porto Cesareo e dalla Società Italiana di Biologia Marina, è stato invitato anche Giovanni Bearzi, presidente dell’Istituto Tethys.

La presentazione di Bearzi, dal titolo “Delfini e pesca in Mediterraneo: depredazione e interazioni trofiche in aree marine soggette a varie misure di tutela”, verteva sulle ricerche condotte da Tethys nelle due aree di studio dell’isola di Kalamos (Grecia) e dell’area marina protetta di Porto Cesareo. Bearzi ha delineato le problematiche relative all’eccessivo sforzo di pesca effettuato intorno a Kalamos e il conseguente declino della popolazione di delfino comune, e ha illustrato i risultati dello studio appena conclusosi relativo alle interazioni tra cetacei e pesca costiera nell’area marina protetta della località pugliese.

L’evento ha rappresentato per Tethys un’interessante occasione di confronto con la realtà della pesca artigianale e con quella di ricercatori, tecnici e operatori delle aree marine protette italiane e transfrontaliere.

Silvia Bonizzoni

Per ulteriori informazioni:
Libro degli abstract del workshop
Apulia Dolphin Project
Ionian Dolphin Project

28 October 2008

When swordfish conservation biologists eat swordfish

I wrote a short essay that was accepted as an Editorial in the renown scientific journal Conservation Biology.

This article is now in press and its published version should be out in February 2009. I would like to share it with Blog readers ahead of print.

The essay is meant to be food for thought for people including myself.

Giovanni Bearzi


Bearzi G. In press. When swordfish conservation biologists eat swordfish. Conservation Biology (scheduled February 2009).
(84 Kb)

27 October 2008

ECS 2009

On 2-4 March, 2009, the 23rd Annual Conference of the European Cetacean Society will take place in Istanbul (Turkey) and will be hosted by the Turkish Marine Research Foundation (TÜDAV).

Since climate change is a major concern all over the world both on land and at sea and there is increasing evidence of its negative effects on biodiversity, the theme of the conference is ‘Climate change and marine mammals’.

The scientific committee of the conference is composed by Graham Pierce, Mario Acquarone,
 Alexei Birkun,
 Peter Evans,
 Alexandre Gannier,
 Ali Cemal Gücü,
 Colin MacLeod,
 Giuseppe Nortabartolo di Sciara (Tethys honorary president), Ayaka Öztürk,
 Bayram Öztürk, and Simone Panigada (Tethys vice-president).

The conference organizers welcome contributions relating to topics such as 1) historical catch records of cetaceans in the Black Sea, 2) Mediterranean monk seals and their management/conservation, 3) marine mammals of the Eastern Mediterranean and the Black Sea. However, talks and posters on all aspects of marine mammal science are equally appreciated.

If you are interested, please note that abstracts must be submitted no later than November 3rd, 2008, and that early registration ends on January 7th, 2009.


For more information:
European Cetacean Society 2009

26 October 2008

Marine Mammal Symposium

The 10th annual seminar of CRMM (Centre de Recherche sur les Mammifères Marins) field correspondents, called ‘Monitoring Strategies for Marine Mammal Populations Symposium’, is scheduled for November 21st to 23rd, 2008, and takes place in La Rochelle, France.

The meeting aims to gather stakeholders, scientists and field biologists to discuss issues relating to the following topics: expressing the societal demand in monitoring marine mammal populations, converting the societal demand into measurable parameters, existing practices of monitoring, marine mammal population indicators and their performance, examples of integrated monitoring strategies.

Scientists such as Peter Evans, Aleta Hohn, Giuseppe Notarbartolo di Sciara (Tethys honorary president), Graham Pierce, Vincent Ridoux and Mark Tasker will be there as invited speakers.

If you are interested, please note that online registration is open for few more days, until October 30th.

Silvia Bonizzoni

For more information:
Monitoring Strategies for Marine Mammal Populations Symposium

25 October 2008

New Mediterranean monk seal breeding colony in the Aegean Sea, Greece

An island previously reserved for military use turned out to be a safe heaven for the endangered Mediterranean monk seal. Three out of the eight caves are suitable for pupping and in 2004 ten pups were identified, four in 2005 and seven in 2007.

Being off limits for all but the military, the beaches of this island provided a safe place for mothers and pups to rest, a behavior that has not been observed in this species in the Mediterranean Sea recently.

This newly discovered colony, with relatively high natality compared to other breeding sites in the Mediterranean Sea and the rare use of open beaches, is of outstanding conservation value and is in urgent need of effective protection.

Eleonora De Sabata

Illustration: distribution of Mediterranean monk seal, from Monachus Guardian

For more information:

Dendrinos D., A.A. Karamanlidis, S. Kotomatas, V. Paravas, S. Adamantopoulou. 2008. Report of a new Mediterranean monk seal (Monachus monachus) breeding colony in the Aegean Sea, Greece. Aquatic Mammals 34(3):355-361.

24 October 2008

A dark time for scientists in Italy

The grim situation of research in Italy is raising international interest. An editorial recently published on Nature, one of the top science journals, portrays a scary picture (see link below).


Cut-throat savings
Editorial -- Nature 455, 835-836 (16 October 2008) | doi:10.1038/455835b; Published online 15 October 2008

23 October 2008

Call for the conservation of common dolphins around Kalamos, Greece

Scientific research done by Tethys since 1991 documented ecosystem damage caused by overfishing in the Greek waters east of Lefkada and around the island of Kalamos - a Natura 2000 area.

This resulted in ecosystem collapse and decline of marine megafauna including formerly abundant short-beaked common dolphins.

Local and regional non-governmental organizations have now joined forces to call for urgent fisheries management action that may result in ecosystem recovery, protect biodiversity, preserve fish stocks, and allow for the long-term survival of artisanal fisheries.

To see the Call: http://www.cetaceanalliance.org/call/

Giovanni Bearzi

22 October 2008

An encounter with a dying killer whale calf

Our friend Chris Johnson, while on a vaquita research expedition in Mexico, witnessed and documented an encounter with a lone killer whale calf.

Watch the video at:

21 October 2008

Risposta cetoquiz

Solo una persona ha azzardato pubblicamente una risposta al cetoquiz del 14 ottobre scorso. L'ipotesi di 'uno zifio anziano' ha una sua verosimiglianza. Si tratta in effetti di un cetaceo odontoceto, ma non di uno zifio.

La foto, scattata in Mar Ligure nel corso della campagna di ricerca 2008 del Cetacean Sanctuary Research, ritrae la sezione anteriore della testa di un capodoglio, probabilmente di età avanzata. Una pigmentazione non comune e inaspettata che può aver tratto in inganno.

La foto qui riportata (click sulla foto per ingrandire) mostra una parte più riconoscibile dello stesso individuo, in posizione verticale e a bocca aperta, mentre è impegnato a socializzare con altri capodogli.

Grazie a Sabina Airoldi per la segnalazione!


20 October 2008

La Storia delle Cose

E' stato finalmente tradotto in italiano il magnifico The Story of Stuff.

La versione sottotitolata si può vedere su:

http://it.youtube.com/watch?v=TNRdMDpFipE (Parte 1 di 3)

http://it.youtube.com/watch?v=cBgtEoFAt7s (Parte 2 di 3)

http://it.youtube.com/watch?v=qBXgNgABdqs (Parte 3 di 3)

Una versione doppiata (malino, per cui si perde il pathos della versione originale) si trova su: http://www.alessandropagano.net/blog/2008/08/20/the-story-of-stuff/

Per la versione inglese originale (ovviamente migliore):


18 October 2008

Ionian Dolphin Project updated

The web site of Tethys' Ionian Dolphin Project has just been updated and renewed.

It now includes a comprehensive report of some of the work done by Tethys collaborators in the eastern Ionian Sea across 18 years - between July 1991 and September 2008.

Please visit the new site at: Ionian Dolphin Project.

Delphi's Dolphins

In 2009 the Tethys Research Institute will launch a dolphin research and conservation project in the Gulf of Corinth, Greece, in the context of Tethys' long-standing Ionian Dolphin Project.

The Gulf is a semi-closed area inhabited by three cetacean species: bottlenose dolphins, striped dolphins and short-beaked common dolphins.

Surveys at sea with inflatable craft will be conducted between April and September 2009. Detailed information and photo albums can be found online at: http://www.tethys.org/tri_courses/courses_index_e.htm (Select: Ionian Dolphin Project)

Researchers and volunteers will stay in a comfortable field station located in the beautiful village of Galaxidi, a short drive away from the stunning archeological site of Delphi.

17 October 2008

Bottlenose dolphins in the Mediterranean

Tethys president Giovanni Bearzi, together with colleagues Caterina Maria Fortuna and Randall R. Reeves, have just published a review paper on bottlenose dolphins in the Mediterranean Sea.

Bearzi G., Fortuna C.M., Reeves R.R. 2008. Ecology and conservation of common bottlenose dolphins Tursiops truncatus in the Mediterranean Sea. Mammal Review. doi: 10.1111/j.1365-2907.2008.00133.x


Ecology and conservation of common bottlenose dolphins Tursiops truncatus in the Mediterranean Sea

Giovanni Bearzi, Caterina Maria Fortuna and Randall R. Reeves

Copyright © 2008 Mammal Society/Blackwell Publishing


1. Bottlenose dolphins Tursiops truncatus are amongst the best-known cetaceans. In the Mediterranean Sea, however, modern field studies of cetaceans did not start until the late 1980s. Bottlenose dolphins have been studied only in relatively small portions of the basin, and wide areas remain largely unexplored.

2. This paper reviews the ecology, behaviour, interactions with fisheries and conservation status of Mediterranean bottlenose dolphins, and identifies threats likely to have affected them in historical and recent times.

3. Whilst intentional killing was probably the most important cause of mortality until the 1960s, important ongoing threats include incidental mortality in fishing gear and the reduced availability of key prey caused by overfishing and environmental degradation throughout the region. Additional potential or likely threats include the toxic effects of xenobiotic chemicals, epizootic outbreaks, direct disturbance from boating and shipping, noise, and the consequences of climate change.

4. The flexible social organization and opportunistic diet and behaviour of bottlenose dolphins may allow them to withstand at least some of the effects of overfishing and habitat degradation. However, dolphin abundance is thought to have declined considerably in the region and management measures are needed to prevent further decline.

5. Management strategies that could benefit bottlenose dolphins, such as sustainable fishing, curbing marine pollution and protecting biodiversity, are already embedded in legislation and treaties. Compliance with those existing commitments and obligations should be given high priority.

16 October 2008

E' nato Giorgio!

Il figlio della ricercatrice Tethys Arianna Azzellino è nato il 30 settembre alle 18:52.

Arianna racconta: "Le ore di sonno sono in media 4 o 5 a notte e ogni tanto si riesce a rubacchiare qualche mezz'ora di sonno durante il giorno... Ciononostante è sicuramente l'esperienza più bella e intensa della vita vista fin qui!"

Auguriamo a Giorgio una lunga e felicissima permanenza in questo mondo.

15 October 2008

How to sex a dolphin

Assessing the ratio of males to females in endangered populations is important for conservation work. Sexing a dolphin at sea is tricky, not least because the genital area of the mammal is usually concealed beneath the water. Researchers generally have to rely on time-consuming observations, either inferring a female's sex from its close association with a calf or taking sharp photos of the genital area (and the dorsal fin). The alternative is a biopsy sample, potentially unpleasant for the animal, again combined wih photos allwing for the individual identification of that individual.

Lucy Rowe and Stephen Dawson, marine biologists at the University of Otago in Dunedin, New Zealand, found an alternative. They recently published a paper reporting how photographs of dorsal fins were used to determine the gender of bottlenose dolphins in a well-studied population in New Zealand's Doubtful Sound. This technique allowed to sex the animals from features measured solely from dorsal fin identification photographs, routinely collected as part of non-invasive population monitoring.

The pair teamed an over-the-counter digital camera with a pair of laser pointers, which project two reference spots precisely 10 cm apart onto the dorsal fin. This procedure allowed an accurate determination of dorsal fin size. The digital photographs were then compared with existing fin and sex records for the population.

Applying this technique, the two researchers found that dorsal fins of males had significantly more scars than female's, probably as a result of aggressive behaviour among males. Fins had a median of 15% scar tissue, whereas in females this was just 3.9%. Conversely, the dorsal fins of females tended to have a greater number of patchy skin lesions, with a median of 12.1% coverage compared with males' 6.8%. Rowe and Dawson then used a statistical analysis of number of fin nicks, fin size and scarring to correctly predict the sex of 93% of 43 dolphins.

This laser technique could potentially be applied to other populations of dolphin or even to other species with slight sexual dimorphism. The authors are currently testing their technique to another population of dolphins in the nearby Dusky Sound, and "initial signs are good".

Annalise Petroselli

Rowe L., Dawson S. 2008. Determining the sex of bottlenose dolphins from Doubtful Sound using dorsal fin photographs. Marine Mammal Science doi: 10.1111/j.1748-7692.2008.00235.x

More information: Nature.com

14 October 2008


Questo animale è stato fotografato da ricercatori Tethys nel Santuario Pelagos. Che cos'è?

Usare i commenti per rispondere (chi lo sa già non risponda, non vale).

Chi indovina vince una menzione sul Blog (wow!).

Click sull'immagine per ingrandire.

10 October 2008

Dolphins of Greece, 1-9 October 2008

The Dolphins of Greece is not only an absolute wonderful experience, but it allocates for one a time to reflect upon the environmental conditions we live today. Each day was a new experience. Each day in the Gulf was a new way to look at the life of not only the dolphins but all who interact within this environment. Joan and Mauro were excellent mentors who challenged us to critique all that was observed. I can think of no one else I would rather have to lead this group! The team was great and the interaction was extremely beneficial. This was a big addition to my 11 week trip throughout Europe. Keep up the good works and education to us all!

Dale, Texas


The Dolphins of Greece expedition provided through Earthwatch was an absolutely AWESOME and AMAZING experience!!! Joan and Mauro were wonderful as a Principle Investigator and research assistant. They taught me so much about in-the-field research and the video documentaries were very educational. The accomodations were truly amazing, the food was incredibly delicious, the views was awe-inspiring, and the dolphins were breath-taking. I had such a wonderful time and learned more than I had ever hoped to. I know that I will be able to use this experience to help raise awareness and educate others about all of the important issues that relate to this expedition! Thanks so much!

Amanda, Florida


This was my first Earthwatch trip and it was worth every penny. I appreciated Joan’s sarcasm and forthright communication style. We were very lucky to have two people on our trip who were dolphin trainers and educators from the Sea World environment. Their experience allowed Joan to delve a little deeper into the science and the methodology and we all benefited from this. The food was really tasty throughout the week, the accommodations very nice, and Posi the dog was a highlight. I learned from the videos and lectures as well as from the doing the actual surveys of dolphin behavior. We were fortunate enough to see dolphins each time we went out so we had varied experiences. There were times that it was a little stressful on the boat but seeing the dolphins made it all worthwhile. Mauro was the assistant during our trip and he was really an asset to the group. His sense of humor and intelligence made the excursions fun and interesting. Overall, this was a great trip with great people, a great place to visit, and great animals to study. I can’t wait to share what I learned with everyone back home.

Jana, Colorado


Since this was my first Earthwatch trip, I wasn’t sure what to expect. It was a GREAT trip and I’m definitely interested in taking other Earthwatch trips now. I really enjoyed getting to see the dolphins, learning about the research processes and seeing Greece. Joan’s personality made it enjoyable. His sarcasm and frankness was refreshing and made his occasional grumpiness bearable ☺. The banter between Joan and Mauro was a lot of fun. It was clear to see how much both of them care about dolphins and the environment. It was fun sharing geocaching with the group and I’m glad we finally got Joan to the castle! I learned a lot from the documentaries and I have a lot to teach people back home. Thanks for the great experience.

Suzanne, Colorado


The Dolphins of Greece was my first Earthwatch expedition, and it has exceeded my expectations. I work for Sea World and the Sea World/Busch Gardens Conservation Fund sent me on this expedition, and I am very grateful to have had this opportunity. I work with dolphins on a daily basis and it was such a good learning opportunity to see Joan’s work with the dolphins in the gulf and to be able to observe the animals in their natural habitat. Although I had a base of knowledge about dolphins, Joan and Mauro were exceptional teachers and I learned more than I antcipated. I really enjoyed the emphasis on conservation and I now feel like I have a large amount of knowledge that I can pass on to my fellow co-workers and guests of Sea World. This trip has also strengthened my desire to pursue more education and to work in the field of marine consevation. My fellow volunteers were wonderful and much of our time was spent laughing with each other. The group dynamics with the volunteers, Joan and Mauro were excellent and we all shared a similar sense of humor. The accomadations were great and I really enjoyed the time we spent sight-seeing and eating together. I cannot say enough good things about this trip and feel so fortunate to have been able to participate on this expedition.

Mary, California